Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Logistics of Washington’s Delaware Crossing

Washington gave his right hand logistics man, Colonel Henry Knox, the chore of overseeing the crossing. 
Knox first had to get all available watercraft on the Delaware to the southern bank by the date of the planned crossing, this would also deny the British the use of these craft, while making them available to the Continentals.
Not only did Knox have to get George across but also 2,400 Continentals soldiers, 18 cannon (3-Pounders, 4-Pounders, some 6-Pounders), horses to pull the carriages, and enough ammunition for the coming battle. Heavy artillery pieces and horses were transported on large flat-bottomed ferries and other watercraft suited to carrying that type of cargo. (The 6-Pounders alone would have weighed as much as 1,750 pounds each.)
Washington and the Continentals crossed the river in shallow draft Durham boats – strongly built cargo vessels, most between 40 and 60 feet in length, designed to move iron ore and bulk goods down the river to markets in and around Philadelphia. These stout craft with their high side walls were robust enough to survive the ice-choked Delaware.
It shouldn’t be surprising that most of Washington’s soldiers stood during the crossing since the bottoms of Durham boats were neither comfortable nor dry.
The 300 yard crossing started in a 30 degree drizzle that would turn into a driving rain and by 11 o’clock that evening, while the boats were crossing the river, a howling nor’easter made the miserable crossing even worse. One soldier recorded that “it blew a perfect hurricane” as snow and sleet lashed Washington’s army. The crossing would take 3 hours, next stop Trenton.